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The Trump Administration’s Latest Attack on Citizenship

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The following is a statement from Ur Jaddou, Director of DHS Watch, regarding the Trump administration’s new citizenship policy: 

The Trump administration just issued a new policy that will make it harder for some children of U.S. citizens born abroad to obtain citizenship, including those serving our country through the military or other government service.  

Even if this new policy affects only a small number of children and does not necessarily bar them from ultimately achieving citizenship, it does narrow the avenues to obtain citizenship and creates new hurdles to becoming an American citizen – even if their parents are already citizens.

That strikes a sensitive nerve.    

U.S. citizenship is the tangible and intangible status that makes you fully belong to this country. Citizenship confers the right to vote. It is a sense of security and safety knowing you may participate in American society just like every other American. It allows you to carry a U.S. passport and travel freely around the world knowing there is a strong American government backing you. It is a sense of home. 

To strike at this, even in the most minimal way, engenders at least some unease and, at worst, fear. Fear that you could lose this sense of security through one policy memo issued with no advance notice by an agency run by a politician appointed under questionable legal circumstances. 

Serving the U.S. abroad should not result in more difficulties to transmit citizenship to children. It should be the other way around. But of particular concern with this policy change is that it affects those who sacrifice so much to serve our country, making it more complicated for them to pass on their citizenship because of the very reason they are abroad – service to their country.      

Given the gravity of how any change to citizenship acquisition might be received by the American public, especially by those serving the country abroad, at a minimum there should be a well-articulated and compelling reason to make the change. In developing the change, there should be meetings with potentially affected groups to ensure their concerns are considered and problems are mitigated in the final policy. There should be a strong rollout plan that clearly explains the purpose of the change, who will be affected and how, and ways to contact the agency for assistance or clarification.

That is the role of a good government.  

But none of that was done here.

Instead, a simple memo in an extremely complex area of law affecting people’s right to pass on their citizenship to their children was published with no warning to the potentially affected population. There were no scheduled public engagements before or after the rollout. No ‘frequently asked questions and answers’ for those who might wonder whether the change could apply to them. And the memo did little to shed light upon the serious problem they were trying to solve that deserved limiting the avenues to citizenship for children of service members or otherwise that are born abroad. Only after so many raised concern did the agency provide some clarification that, frankly, leaves us wanting more.  

While it remains unclear what compelling issue this administration was attempting to address in narrowing avenues to transmit U.S. citizenship to children born abroad, we do know this is consistent with everything else this administration has done on immigration over the last two and a half years. Everywhere you turn, there is a new limit on accessing legal immigration – the new public charge regulation that will reshape legal immigration by class and race, unprecedented decreases in the long-treasured U.S. refugee program, multiple efforts to close the asylum system to Central Americans and others, new policies that make it more difficult for U.S. employers to hire high-skilled immigrants, and now citizenship, even for those who serve and protect the very ideals that make us all proud to call ourselves American citizens.